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Learning from the Jesuits

There are sophisticated ways of putting it, but in simpler terms we are formed and influenced by those with whom we hang out.  Our friends form us into who we are.  I suspect that most people use the term, friendship, too loosely these days.  Some claim to have more than five hundred Facebook friends!  That’s ok; I don’t want to engage that issue.

What I do want to suggest, however, is not all my friends---and perhaps, your friends, too---are living.  I have quite a few friends who are only friends to me because of their books that I read and cherish.  Some of these friends are very old.  Actually, some of them pre-date Jesus himself!  But they influence me and have formed me into the person I am today.

That does not discount the formation I experienced at the hands of my parents and grandparents.  It does not belittle the incredible formation of early grade school teachers and professors in my graduate program.  I will always be grateful for the many friends I had along the way---those who sat in the classroom with me, those who taught me over coffee, etc.

But there are others to whom I am grateful.  Regular readers know about my journey with the Benedictine monks---men and women alike.  Thomas Merton, the famous Trappist monk from the Abbey of Gethsemani in Kentucky has been a faithful teacher for decades now.  And there are other old-timers who will always be my teachers and spiritual directors.

There is another who has played an odd formative role in my spiritual journey.  That person is Ignatius Loyola.  I first encountered Ignatius in a history class.  I know I would have read about him in some of the first Christian history classes I had in college and, even more so, in graduate school.  I learned Ignatius was a sixteenth century Spanish knight whose career seemed designed to serve the King of Spain.  He was educated in the chivalry of that age, entered military service and was wounded in battle against the French.

It was during his recovery that he began reading some spiritual literature, among which books was The Imitation of Christ by Thomas à Kempis.  Slowly, Ignatius was transformed from a solder into a soldier for Christ.  He was to serve under a different flag.  As he prayed, reflected and developed spiritually, Ignatius realized he could help others on their journey as well.  He began writing down his thoughts.

Eventually, he produced his spiritual guide, the Spiritual Exercises, and he attracted a group of followers who became a spiritual community.  Ultimately, the petitioned the pope to grant permission for them to become a religious order and were known as Jesuits, technically, the Society of Jesus.  I began being aware of Jesuits when I had a few of them as professors in graduate school.  And I have continued my journey with them in some sporadic ways.

When I spend time with the Spiritual Exercises, it is like eating food that is good for you rather than food that is good, but not good for you!  His thoughts challenge my way of thinking.  Ignatius’ language is not always easy for me; he articulates things in a way that is not always inviting.  But he causes me to do some significant growing.  I appreciate his spiritual challenges to grow up.

If it seems like I am complaining, I hope I am not.  I am simply saying he is a struggle to stay with and grow from the encounter.  Again, to use a metaphor getting a dose of the Jesuit theology is like getting a plate of vegetables instead of ice cream.  That’s why I keep returning to have another measure.  And then I hit something like the following prayer from Ignatius and I have to eat my words.

Teach us, good Lord, to serve you as you deserve;
to give, and not to count the cost,
to fight, and not to heed the wounds,
to toil, and not to seek for rest,
to labor, and not to ask for reward,
except that of knowing that we are doing your will.

I relish the beginning and end of this prayer.  He begins the prayer with a petition to be taught---vintage Jesuit theology.  And he ends the prayer in the way we all should end the prayer, namely, that we might know God’s desire for us so that we can get on with doing that will.

I appreciate learning from the Jesuits.  Joining his prayer I can only say, Amen.

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